Naples was a thriving city in the early 18th century, both larger and wealthier than Rome, but it also had a significant impoverished population. Carlo III, the Bourbon King of Naples and Sicily, conceived the idea of a Royal Almshouse, where the 8,000 destitute citizens could obtain shelter, nourishment, and work. In 1752, Ferdinando Fuga began construction on the massive, seven-story Real Albergo dei Poveri. The scale of the project was meant to emphasize the power of Carlo III’s regime as well as suit its daily function. The complex was designed to house four categories of people: men, women, children, and the elderly. Once inside, the groups did not mix; even families were separated. Of the three internal courtyards, one was reserved for females, one for males, and the last for the administration.
This social experiment was meant to be continued with the construction of a church in the center of the complex, a panopticon model equipped with distinct entrances and sections for each of the groups. Though envisioned years before Jeremy Bentham’s famed panoptic prison, the church was never completed. In 1980 an earthquake collapsed one wing of the building, prompting renewed interest and conservation efforts.
How We Helped
With support from the European Union, work began on the 985-foot (300-meter) long façade and vast interiors of Real Albergo dei Poveri. Because the building had been designed to prevent contact between its different residents, finding a new use for the building without harming its original fabric seemed daunting. WMF supported a proposed research plan to determine the best adaptive reuse solution for the Albergo. A team conducted surveys to assess the needs of the local population. They analyzed the structural capabilities of the complex and evaluated different scenarios of reuse with computer simulations. Their results indicated that beneficial functions of the building could include a tourist museum and historical/archaeological research laboratories.
Why It Matters
The Real Albergo dei Poveri was originally built outside Naples proper, but centuries of urban expansion have enveloped it, setting the complex in the heart of the modern city. Built from tufo and brick, the Albergo is the second largest public building in Europe, even after 40 percent of the initial design was dropped from the plan. The size, location, and historical significance of the site all necessitate its incorporation into modern life. The research methods developed for this project will hopefully be applied to reinvigorate Real Albergo dei Poveri and find workable adaptive reuse solutions for other urban structures. This project highlights the ability to integrate preservation and development in order to ensure the protection of both past and present.